Bigger Isn’t Better in America

Write an essay inspired by mustard.

In an ideal world, mustard would come in whimsical glass containers with pictures of wholesome families on their labels. The words “all natural” or “organic” would adorn the jars. They would line the supermarket shelves next to matching bottles of relish and ketchup. No one would need to worry about the price, or healthfulness. In this world, when a family bought a giant container of mustard because of its low unit cost, the family wouldn’t think about health issues, but this difference stems from a compromise of values. Americans are so used to ingesting chemicals and artificial flavors that one more variety does not even register on our radar. The prevalence of super-sized foods reflects a change in America’s culture, and in the American Dream. America has always been the land of the plentiful. Even my relatives in China know that. “Big city, big money, Big Mac,” my six-year-old cousin once said to me in his broken English. I was startled by the profundity of his statement. The America that used to be known as the land of possibility has become far smaller in the 21st century, in the hands of several large corporations with widespread influence. America is large in the most profound sense of the word, but big mustard, big highways covered with big billboards, and big companies were never part of the American Dream. Once – less than a hundred years ago – a person knew that he had fulfilled the American Dream if he could feed his large family with generous portions of food. Now, many people buying “wholesale” merchandise, including mustard, also have large debts, large families, and tragically large bodies. They are clearly not living the American Dream. Although bigger no longer guarantees better in modern America, the American Dream is not lost. It still retains the same fundamental characteristics as always. When my parents came to the United States, they planned to go back to China one day, but they stayed, drawn by the energy, the optimism, the comraderie, and the potential that is America. This spirit allowed my father, a graduate student with fifty dollars and a student visa, to become vice-president of a start-up pharmaceutical company. It is the same spirit that allowed Raphael Lemkin to fight for the outlaw of genocide in this country even though it was a larger issue elsewhere. It is the same spirit that permits me to set the goal of becoming a foreign correspondent on a newspaper, and still research evolutionary biology. So although too many Americans persist in buying big mustard, there is always the possibility of success through hard work. In the end, we are all Gatsbys, waiting for the green light to near.

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